Friday, 13 May 2011

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Edward St. Aubyn, At Last

The book of the moment in the world of literary fiction seems to be At Last, by Edward St. Aubyn, the fifth in a series which began in 1992 and features the character Patrick Melrose. The previous volume in the series, Mother's Milk, was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2006 and At Last may well be in the running again this year. Reviews have been universally positive; signed copies are just beginning to appear and I will certainly be picking one up.

Edward St Aubyn was born in 1960, and was educated at Westminster School and Oxford University. In some respects, his life has been very privileged. He is a cousin of Lord St Levan, whose home is St Michael's Mount, and he is godfather to Earl Spencer's son, Louis. However, as a child, he was raped by his father, and at 16, he was a heroin addict. He began taking drugs while he was at Westminster, a habit he continued at Oxford (best friend: Will Self). He turned up for his finals immaculately attired, but with heroin secreted about his person and the empty tube of a Bic biro through which to snort it.

At 28, St Aubyn decided that he would kill himself if he did not finish writing a novel. He initially wrote a semi-autobiographical trilogy: Never Mind (1992), winner of a Betty Trask Award; Bad News (1992); and Some Hope (1994), subsequently published together under the name of the last volume, Some Hope (2006). Mother's Milk (2006) is a loose sequel to the trilogy, also featuring Patrick Melrose, and was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. In addition, he is also the author of On the Edge (1998), shortlisted for the 1998 Guardian Fiction Prize; and A Clue to the Exit (2000), about a hack screenwriter given six months to live.

"For Patrick Melrose, ‘family’ is more than a double-edged sword. As friends, relations and foes trickle in to pay final respects to his mother, Eleanor – an heiress who forsook the grandeur of her upbringing for ‘good works’, freely bestowed upon everyone but her own child – Patrick finds that his transition to orphanhood isn’t necessarily the liberation he had so long imagined.
Yet as the service ends and the family gather for a final party, as conversations are overheard, danced around and concertedly avoided, amidst the social niceties and the social horrors, the calms and the rapids, Patrick begins to sense a new current. And at the end of the day, alone in his rooftop bedsit, it seems to promise some form of safety, at last.
One of the most powerful reflections on pain and acceptance, and the treacheries of family, ever written, At Last is the brilliant culmination of the Melrose books. It is a masterpiece of glittering dark comedy and profound emotional truth."


Never Mind Heinemann, 1992
Bad News Heinemann, 1992
Some Hope Heinemann, 1994
On the Edge Heinemann, 1998
The Patrick Melrose Trilogy (contents: 'Never Mind'; 'Bad News'; 'Some Hope') Vintage, 1998
A Clue to the Exit Chatto & Windus, 2000
Mother's Milk Picador, 2006
At Last Picador, 2011.

No comments: